Software Defined Radios (SDRs) for space and satellite applications

Roundup

Space-based Software Defined Radios (SDRs) are primarily used in satellites to increase processing power, as well as to complement the overall communications architecture; both for transmitting and receiving signals.

In this article we give a brief overview of what SDRs are, discuss how to choose an SDR for a space mission, review some of the current developments in the space-based SDR market, and share details on a range of systems on the global market.

If you are familiar with the technology and would like to skip straight to the product listings, please click here.


What is a software defined radio (SDR)?

An SDR is a radio communication platform that enables higher processing power using software in an embedded system. The embedded system features software functions and protocols that essentially replace various hardware components in traditional products.

SDRs have traditionally been used in a wide variety of terrestrial applications. But with the rising demand for high processing power on-board satellites and space systems, SDRs have gradually gained momentum in the space industry.

The upstream satellite market has undergone major changes since the inception of high-throughput satellites (HTS) in the past decade.

Although many of the Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite operators have traditionally utilized HTS systems, Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (NGSO) satellite operators are now beginning to implement them more extensively, particularly as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) applications are driving new growth in the industry.

One of the most important factors in HTS systems is the high processing power required for enhanced transmission and signal reception, in the form of data and bandwidth requirements. SDR platforms provide significant acceleration for systems such as HTS, ultimately increasing the processing power of the satellites.

From ground-space communication systems, to satellite-satellite communication and on-orbit servicing, SDRs have a wide range of applications in the space industry. For example, considering the growing requirements for higher processing power, both Earth Observation (EO) and communication satellites are increasingly utilizing SDR technologies.

In the next section we take a closer look at some of the important elements of an SDR system.

satellite imagery of the coast

Systems-on-Chip (SoC) and Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) in SDRs

A full SDR platform mainly consists of a System-on-Chip (SoC) and a Field-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) module. An SoC is primarily used as an integrated circuit to hold components together, while the FPGA is a configurable module designed to help program electrical functions according to mission requirements.

Xilinx is one of the most well-known SoC providers and their products, such as the Zynq UltraScale+, are widely used in the space industry. Other companies providing SoC/FPGA products and services in the space industry include Microsemi, Analog Devices, and NanoXplore.

(To find out more about FPGAs in space, please take a look at our overview of FPGA-based OBCs and payload processors on the market and our podcast with satsearch member Xiphos on advancing the use of FPGA-based OBCs in space.)

Modern space systems can require significant processing resources. To meet this requirement in an efficient manner, SoCs enable satellite manufacturers to reduce the overall hardware expense and access higher processing power in a less complex manner.

Based on this technological foundation, there are various projects underway around the world to expand the performance and versatility of SDRs, as discussed in the next section.


R&D activity on software defined radios

A variety of research and development activities have enhanced and facilitated the increased use of SDRs in space systems.

Companies such as EmTroniX for example, along with the European Space Agency (ESA), are currently developing innovative SDR platforms to meet emerging applications.

Projects are also underway to further reduce the size and operating power of SDR systems, through the use of more powerful electronics, innovative materials, and more advanced system setups.

As mentioned, the majority of software defined radios for space on the market today mainly utilize SoC and FPGA technology.

In coming years, as space research and development continue to accelerate, we can potentially expect more customizable solutions in the SDR sector.

For example, a customizable SoC and FPGA could give more flexibility to customers, so they can choose product configurations better suited to their mission requirements.

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How to choose an SDR for your system

Alongside the typical considerations of availability, heritage, lead time, and, of course, Size, Weight, Power and Cost (SWaP-C), here are some specific performance criteria that need to be considered when selecting an SDR system:

  • Module or complete solution – firstly, it is important to determine whether an entire system is required, or an SDR module to form part of the larger communications setup.
  • Frequency bands – the SDR must operate within the target communications frequencies for the mission’s needs.
  • Data rate – this will be determined by the satellite’s primary application and the capacity of the entire communications chain.
  • Communication standards – this may be a determining factor, based on the mission requirements, mission partners, and satellite integrator’s processes.
  • Modulation schemes – select the required modulation, such as QPSK or OQPSK, to meet the necessary data processing needs of the system.
  • In-orbit configurability – consider whether you need to be able to re-configure the SDR while in-orbit. Most systems have this capability, due to the nature of the technology, but the extent of that configurability should be checked carefully before purchase.

There are many other factors that may be important in the selection of a software defined radio system or module for a specific mission or service. Open communication with suppliers will help to ensure the best option for your needs is selected – and this is something we can help with if required!


Software defined radios on the global market

In the section below you can see an overview of a variety of SDR systems available on the global market. This list contains both complete SDR solutions and individual SDR modules.

Please note that this list will be updated when new products are added to the global marketplace for space – so please check back for more or sign up for our mailing list to get all the updates.

You can click on any of the links or images below to find out more about each of the SDR products, or you can submit a generic request for a system to meet your mission needs by simply sharing your required system specifications with us (for free!)


The Alén Space TOTEM Software Defined Radio (SDR) is a flight-proven software defined radio system suitable for communication nanosatellites. TOTEM operates in commonly-used nanosatellite frequency bands using Xilinx's Zynq-7000 SoC with an embedded Linux and programmable logic. It also includes a wide frequency range transceiver and can be reconfigured in-orbit.

The IQ Spacecom XLink-S is an S-band transceiver system (SDR) suitable for micro, nano and pico satellites in LEO environment. The physical dimensions of the system allow it to fit in a 1U CubeSat. The Standard CCSDS protocols are used to develop the radio interface and radio protocol. With appropriate FEC encoding schemes, the SDR supports higher order types of modulations and schemes such as BPSK and QPSK.

The IQ Spacecom XLink-X is an X-band transceiver system (SDR) suitable for micro, nano and pico satellites in LEO environment. The physical dimensions of the system allows it to fit into a 1U CubeSat. The Standard CCSDS protocols are used to develop the radio interface and radio protocol. With appropriate FEC encoding schemes, the SDR supports higher order types of modulations and schemes such as BPSK and QPSK.

The SkyLabs NANOlink-base-2 is a S-band TM/TC satellite communication subsystem miniaturised with full duplex communication link and CCSDS compliance. The system is designed to provide improved communication data link budgets. SkyLabs assures outstanding performance of NANOcomm-2 by designing a best-in-class SWaP characteristics.

The SkyLabs NANOlink-boost-2 is a S-band TM/TC satellite communication subsystem with full duplex link and integrated RF power amplifier. The system is CCSDS compliant and is designed to provide improved communication data link budgets through the additional power amplifier. SkyLabs assures outstanding performance of NANOcomm-2 by designing a best-in-class SWaP characteristics.

The SkyLabs NANOlink-boost-dp-2 is a TM/TC satellite communication subsystem with full duplex communication link in S-band frequency range, integrated RF power amplifier and signal splitter/combiner. The system is CCSDS compliant and is designed to provide improved communication data link budgets. SkyLabs assures outstanding performance of NANOcomm-2 by designing a best-in-class SWaP characteristics.

The Augustus Aerospace Company's S2DR 1000 Dual-Transceiver Space SDR is a software defined radio designed for small satellites. It consits of Xilinx's Zynq-7030 SoC and Kintex-7 FPGA along with ARM Holdings' dual ARM® 9 cores processor. The product also consists of high performance RF transceivers which can be customized for LEO CubeSat deployment, specifically for scienific and military missions.

software-defined-radio

The CesiumAstro SDR-1001 is a compact software-defined radio designed for military and commercial Low Earth Orbit (LEO) applications. It consists of customizable FPGA fabric that enables user-defined communications system. It has SpaceWire and UART data interfaces with an option of 10GBASE-KR & 1000BASE-X. SDR-1001 supports several high-order modulations including DVB-S2X and LTE-grade waveforms.

The Innoflight SCR-104 is a flight proven compact software defined radio (SDR) designed for space applications. It consists of an L-band uplink and S-band uplink/downlink system. It uses Innoflight’s next-generation intermediate frequency software defined radio (IF-SDR) modem which supports additional baseband processing, including waveforms on both the downlink and the uplink.

The Innoflight SCR-106 is a compact software defined radio (SDR) designed for space applications. It consists of an S-band uplink and an X-band downlink system. It has data rates up to 105 Mbps and also has a pathway to achieve much higher data rates. The SCR-106’s advanced communications components allow frequency, power, waveform, modulation and other features to be selectable and controlled on the fly, unlike traditional space hardware.

The Innoflight SCR-108 is a compact software defined radio (SDR) designed for space applications. It consists of an S-band uplink and an K-band downlink system. Both the transceiver and receiver of the SCR-108 operate in the K-band. It incorporates advanced modulation, encoding and transport methods through modern highly integrated application specific chipsets (RF) with a high density system-on-chip (SoC) FPGAs.

The Rincon Research Corporation ASTROSDR is a software defined radio platform designed for space applications. It consists of Xilinx Zynq 7045 FPGA & dual ARM system-on-chip (SoC). It has Dual receivers and transmitters as well as 64 GB eMMC flash on the daughter card for data storage. AstroSDR has multiple interfaces for I/O and command/control: dual UARTS, two FPGA-attached LVDS pairs, and an Ethernet interface on an optional daughter-card.

The Rincon Research Corporation RAPTOR is a software defined radio development kit designed for multiple space missions. It consists of a Xilinx Zynq UltraScale+ system-on-chip (SoC) and has a Quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor. The kit includes an RF shield, heatsinks, USB cables, standoffs, and a power supply.

The Rincon Research Corporation XSDR LPFE DSP BASE CARD is a processor card in the xSDR family of products designed for space applications. This low-power processor card can handle demanding digital signal processing (DSP) applications without an attached server or laptop. It can also be used without a mezzanine card for standalone applications.

The Tethers Unlimited SWIFT-SLX is a flight proven dual band (S- and L-Band) software defined transceiver designed for space applications. It weighs less than 400 grams and requires approximately 16 Watts of operating power. The SWIFT software defined radios are compatible with Type-1 encryption modules and can support AES-256 encryption natively.

The Tethers Unlimited SWIFT-XTX is an X-Band software defined radio (SDR) based transmitter designed for aerial and space applications. It weighs less than 300 grams and suitable for use in satellites, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and high altitude platforms (HAPS). The SWIFT software defined radios are compatible with Type-1 encryption modules and can support AES-256 encryption natively.

The Tethers Unlimited SWIFT-XTRX is an X-Band software defined radio (SDR) based transceiver designed for aerial and space applications. It weighs less than 300 grams and suitable for use in satellites, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and high altitude platforms (HAPS). The SWIFT software defined radios are compatible with Type-1 encryption modules and can support AES-256 encryption natively.

The Tethers Unlimited SWIFT-XTS is a dual band (S- and X-Band) software defined transceiver designed for aerial and space applications. It weighs approximately 800 grams and suitable for use in satellites, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and high altitude platforms (HAPS). The SWIFT software defined radios are compatible with Type-1 encryption modules and can support AES-256 encryption natively.

The Tethers Unlimited RAVEN-SDR is a software defined radio system designed for space applications. It weighs 1 kg and has an additional AES256 Quantum Secure Zero Trust Blockchain. It can also accept third-party applications with incredibly throughput, speed, and flexibility.

The Vulcan Wireless NSR-SDR-U/U is a UHF transceiver designed for space applications. It consists of programmable software defined radio architecture and has both half and full duplex configurations. It is provided with integrated AES 256 encryption and optional high-speed Type-1 encryption.

The Vulcan Wireless NSR-SDR-MUOS radio is a MUOS functional terminal designed for aerial and space applications. It consists of fully integrated full-duplex MUOS and legacy UHFSATCOM waveforms. It has a software defined radio (SDR) architecture and has NSA TYPE-1 encryption. It also has half and full duplex configurations.

The Vulcan Wireless NSR-SDR-S/S is an SDR based S-band transponder designed for space applications. It consists of <1 2 u cubesat form factor and has a mission lifetime of five years. it an optional integrated tsab (type-1) encryption. compatibility with ssc, ksat, atlas space, mc3, ccsds, nasa nen, tdrs-ma dsn.< p>

The Vulcan Wireless NSR-SDR-X/S is a high speed X-band and K-band radio system designed for space applications. It has a downlink speed of up to 200 Mbps. It has an optional Type-1 encryption and has compatibility with SSC, KSat, Atlas Space, MC3, CCSDS, NASA NEN.

The Vulcan Wireless NSR-SDR-X/S HP is an integrated full duplex X-band/S-band transponder with DVB-S2 data. It has an optional TSAB Type-1 encryption and has compatibility with SSC, KSat, Atlas Space, MC3, CCSDS, NASA NEN and DSN. The application of the transponder includes cislunar navigation and lunar surface communications.

The Vulcan Wireless NSR-SDR-K/Ka is a high speed X-band and K-band radio system designed for space applications. It has a downlink speed of up to 200 Mbps. It has an optional Type-1 encryption and has compatibility with SSC, KSat, Atlas Space, MC3, CCSDS, NASA NEN.

The Vulcan Wireless HRL-SDR-S/S is a fully integrated software defined radio (SDR) transponder designed for space applications. It consists of <1 2 10 u cubesat form factor and has a mission lifetime of years. it compatibility with ssc, ksat, atlas space, mc3, ccsds, nasa nen, tdrs-ma dsn.< p>

The Honeywell Aerospace STC-MS03 is an S-band telemetry, tracking and command (TT&C) transceiver designed for space applications. It is based on software defined radio (SDR) and is designed to allow for fast customization to accommodate customer requirements. The STC-MS03 is designed with specific attention to power and size to address the limited space and reduced battery capacity of small satellites.

The Honeywell Aerospace XDL-C301-HR is an X-band downlink transmitter designed for small and medium satellites. It has a software defined radio (SDR) functionality and has been optimized for missions that require high data rates. It has an input data rate of up to 700 Mbps and has an LVDS synchronous serial interface.

The Honeywell Aerospace CDL-MS02 is a C-band downlink transmitter designed for LEO small satellite missions. It is based on a software defined radio (SDR) and is designed to allow fast customization to accommodate customer requirements. The CDL-MS02 comprises a radio transmitter with a high efficiency GaN SSPA and provides up to a 40 Mbps downlink to ground infrastructure.

The Space Micro NANOCOM-500™ SOFTWARE DEFINED RADIO (SDR) is a high performance SDR designed for LEO, MEO, and GEO missions. It is programmable on orbit and contains the latest-generation Xilinx Zynq system-on-chip (SoC). Its modular design allows for ease of configuration to support different data rates, frequencies, bandwidths and interfaces.

The Space Micro NANOCOM SOFTWARE DEFINED RADIO (SDR) is a high performance SDR designed for LEO, MEO, and GEO missions. It is programmable on orbit and contains the latest-generation Xilinx Zynq system-on-chip (SoC). Its modular design allows for ease of configuration to support different data rates, frequencies, bandwidths and interfaces.

The Space Micro μSDR-C™ SOFTWARE DEFINED RADIO is a high performance SDR designed for LEO and GEO missions.

The Akash systems Ka/S Cubesat Radio is a software defined radio (SDR) operating in S-band frequency suitable for smallsats. The system allows inflight modulation adjustments. Gallium Nitride (GaN)-on-Diamond MMIC Power Amplifier, a proprietary technology of Akash systems, is used in the SDR to enhance the thermal and RF performance.

The Akash systems X/S Cubesat Radio is a software defined radio (SDR) with an X-band transmitter and an S-band receiver, suitable for smallsats. The system allows inflight modulation adjustments. Gallium Nitride (GaN)-on-Diamond MMIC Power Amplifier, a proprietary technology of Akash systems, is used in the SDR to enhance the thermal and RF performance.

The Trident Systems MultiFunction RF Electronics Unit & On-Board Processor (MFREU) is an integrated unit designed for space applications. It is a complete software defined radio (SDR), processor and data storage unit built on Trident’s VPX modules suitable for a wide range of mission applications. It is built with an EMI/EMC hardened chassis, integrated power supplies, and flexible I/O.

The Rocket Lab Frontier-S is an S-band software defined radio designed for both near earth and deep space missions. It consists of hardware critical command decoder (CCD) enables hardware-based functionality like fire-codes for spacecraft reset or precision time keeping. Frontier-S has a two-way doppler and two-way ranging for navigation beyond low earth orbit (LEO). The product weighs 590 grams and has a SpaceWire host interface.


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